Down the mousehole : Episode 005
“I think one of the biggest opportunities for technology right now and where a lot of the Event tech companies and startups are really gaining speed, is actually smaller meetings.”
“I think it’s about rediscovering the purpose of events.”
Founder and Event Tech Guru
Julius Solaris is the editor of EventMB. Started in 2007, EventMB is the number one online platform worldwide for event professionals. Julius is the founder of the Event Innovation Lab an immersive training program for Fortune 500 companies and high performance event teams.
He has been named one of 25 most influential individuals in the Meeting Industry by Successful Meetings Magazine.
He is the author of over 10 books on event technology, event marketing, meeting design and innovation (The Eventtech Bible, Meeting Design, The Future of Event Marketing, The art of venue negotiation, Annual Event Trends Report, Social Media for Events, The Event App Bible , The Good Event Registration Guide, Engaging Events, The Venue of the Future). Over 200,000 event professionals downloaded his books.
In 2008 he started the Event Planning and Management LinkedIn Group. Now at over 380,000 members it is the largest community of event professionals online.
Social Media Experience
Before becoming a 100% dedicated editor and speaker, he has been working as Social Media Consultant for FTSE250 companies in the UK. His last campaign with RS Components won Econsultancy’s The Digitals for Best Multichannel Marketing Campaign.
Hello and welcome back to Three Blind Mice. I’m your host, the honorary doc, Randle, otherwise known as the Mice Maister-in-Cheese.
Welcome to Radio.Events and the Three Blind Mice podcast. Thanks for tuning in. We bring you what’s hip and happening behind the scenes of meetings, incentives, conferences, and events. Three Blind Mice – the little pod with a cast of thousands from Radio.Events
My guest today is Julius Solaris, and if you don’t know Julius, he’s the founder and mastermind of the Event Manager Blog, and if you’re not yet a subscriber, head on over to our website at Radio.Events and you’ll find out all about him, the blog and most importantly a link to the Event Manager Blog.
In your car, at work, at home, on your smart phone. Three Blind Mice
Julius. Hello and welcome to Three Blind Mice. Thank you for coming on the show.
It is my great pleasure. I’m so excited to be here. Thanks for having me.
You’ve been spending way too much time in the States. ‘I’m so excited’. You’ll be slipping an ‘awesome’ in there next.
I’m starting to have feelings again, is that what you’re saying?
Julius, the first time we met, we were both working in London and the last time we briefly caught up, we were both in Las Vegas. And well I almost didn’t recognize you, the new you – perhaps it’s not so new these days. You seemed somewhat at home in Las Vegas. So what’s been going on in your life?
Well, you know, Vegas is the place where events happen, at least, uh, you know, business events, MICE industry, it’s the top city in the US for that. It’s also a changing city. I think it’s one of the fastest growing markets for real estate right now. Uh, there’s a lot of things happening. We’re just got an NHL team. The football is coming in a couple of years with the Raiders moving from Oakland. This means a lot for a US city in terms of its nature and how it is perceived. So it seems like it’s becoming more of a place where people want to live rather than just the one where they spend some time getting wasted, which is kind of the reputation that it had in the past. And also moved a lot from being just on gambling city to being a place where you go for live experiences, whether it’s about gaming and gambling of course but also great shows, with resident artists, lots of concerts, conferences and exhibitions. So yeah, it’s an exciting place to be. It’s a very developing and changing environment and I usually tend to like that in a city. So there’s a lot to do. Love it.
Do you still make journeys back back home, and to the rest of Europe?
I do. I’m Italian, so I do go back to Italy from time to time at least once a year. I haven’t been to Europe as much as I used to, which is kind of a regret I guess, of being. I did enjoy the vicinity of a Amsterdam, Paris and other European cities to London. So yeah, I had to give up on that, but I guess, you know, it’s give and take, but yeah, my plan is to go back to Europe, especially for work purposes very soon.
You were working in London for a while. How did you get from Italy to London to Vegas?
Okay. 11 years ago I started a blog and so it was just a hobby back then. I then decided to get a proper job. I moved to London as a lot of Italians do these days. I don’t know if they will keep doing it after Brexit. But that was the plan of a lot of people, I think London is like the 5th Italian city in the world in terms of numbers of Italians living there – it’s like 300,000 Italians. It’s ridiculous. So it’s where Europeans in general would go as we would move to New York or Los Angeles here in the US if you’re looking for a job or for opportunities. And it worked out well for me. I had a proper job in London for a while until I left everything. I resigned and dedicated myself to the blog full time in 2010, 2011 and uh, that’s become my business, we moved back to the UK, back to Italy and then I decided to make the move to the US was very lucky to have the chance to do so. And the rest is history I guess
Julius, you started with the blog, did you say 2010?
We started the Event Manager Blog in 2007.
How did you get into events originally? You just started blogging about it. There must be some backstory there.
Yeah. I always had a passion for events. I always loved events since my early age where I was a teenager. I used to plan things with my friends. I was very into it. I had a passion for seeing people gather. I guess when, when I started the blog, blogs were like what Instagram and Youtube is today, in terms of the perspective of creating a business or making it become your job. That was the thing back then and still is today to be honest, but I guess at the time they were very hyped in the eyes of people. I guess I had to start thinking about a topic to write about and the advice at the time was that if you could write 50 articles about a topic that’s your topic. And my only topic at the time was events mostly because I had some experience with a Pharma conferences as in marketing, and planning my own events was my passion and I also had the passion at the intersect between technology, innovation and Events and social media as well. You know, you have to remember at the time, social media was extremely young. We’re talking three to three years, blogs maybe five or six. And we, we were starting to think about the application of social media to events, what could have been, and so I was like very drawn into exploring what that interaction could be. I guess I’m among the first, after obviously Corbin Ball has been the sort of opener, the futurist in the sense to, to actually, uh, dissect more the impact of technology and events.
So Vegas is now home. How do you find living in the States? What are the big differences?
I moved here in 2016, just before the elections. A lot of things have changed obviously as you can see in the news, as much as Society can change. There’s a core belief in business in this country. That you can make it in the American dream – running successful businesses, in achieving objectives. And I really love that. That mentality is what I did with my business. I started in a very entrepreneurial mode, and sometimes I got a lot of friction in Europe. It’s very easy for people to laugh at you when you say you’re a blogger. It’s very nonconventional. It’s seen in a different way in Europe, which is not necessarily the case here. There’s a lot of openness to innovation and change, which I, I love. Sometimes, it’s even hard for me to keep up with how reactive the market is. The adoption is in some cases very fast and I love that.
And events in general. I mean, what do you see as being the big differences between events in the US versus the UK and the rest of Europe?
Right. Very interesting. I feel that there’s more sense of events as catalysts for business opportunity here in the US. Whether you’re planning events, whether you’re attending events, there’s more awareness of the role that events play. The business potential that events have sometimes in Europe, we pass on that. There’s a lot of the free culture there, as I call it, everything is free, speakers are free, events are free. So, you know, we always end up with the same people at all the industry events and there’s no really willingness to push the boundary forward and make people pay, pay a lot of money to attend events, pay a lot of the speakers that performed there, that virtual cycle. I think sometimes in the UK and Europe, we pass on these things and we say, okay, let’s, let’s get a venue for free, let’s invite everybody for free, let’s call speakers that won’t charge us and let’s pull something together. That’s kind of the perception that I have, especially when it gets to industry events, which are the events that I tend to attend more. So here, even at Association stage, you have to pay to attend, even if you’re a member of an association that’s normal, speakers get paid to talk at events and I spent like the first four or five years of my speaking career, which, is a separate career not being paid for exposure, whatever that means. I guess I love how there’s a sense of the business value of events here and I hope that Europe embraces that more.
As we all know, USA events reflect both the much larger population and the corresponding size of the venues and event technology has clearly been a massive enabler there over the last few years. We’ve all witnessed the event tech wave and to a point where we were practically flooded with new event technology vendors almost on a weekly basis. Have we reached a point where there’s now some rationalization of those event tech companies taking place or are we still on the crest of the wave?
No, I think we’re just began with event technology as a thing. I think we started probably a year, year and a half ago. Event tech has been around for 20 years now, but the creation of an ecosystem where there’s constant investment from venture capitalists and in general, you know, we’re recording this at a time where Eventbrite just got listed on the stock exchange today and jumped up 65 percent on its initial share price, right. So, and, and we speak a year and a half after Cvent was acquired by Vista, a $1.6bn acquisition, which is unheard of in the events industry. So we’re just at the beginning of a realization that events are a valuable opportunity for innovation. And so these case studies, these examples will inspire many young technologists and event people to start their own startups to disrupt to create new services. We’re finally there. I think we’re finally there. The last two years have been very instrumental in it. I’ve been approached by many private funds, people that are willing to look into the event industry, willing to invest into technology companies. We’ve witnessed a lot of significant rounds of funding in a lot of what we call smaller players, but not as much. And if you take visible $30 million in a year raised, Social Tables a very successful rounds as well. So, you know, there’s a lot of movement in there and we can only expect great things happening from there.
Julius, as I think back over the last five years and as the event app has become largely ubiquitous for many event projects, many event professionals have themselves struggled to keep up with the changing technology in the event landscape. But what you’re effectively inferring, I think is that ‘we ain’t seen nothing yet’.
Oh yes, we will. I mean, there’s this tendency just because we’re in a face to face industry to sort of add this negative approach to technology that thinking that, ‘oh no, we’re about face to face.’ We have to deny the role of technology. I mean, if you think about it, there’s no proper industry, there is no proper job that works these days without technology. Think about running any job without an email, without even running events with online registration. What you’re telling me that going back to Fax is a good thing. I don’t think so. And especially, you know, I agree that sometimes, you know, it doesn’t have to be attendee facing, it could be a lot about the processes, the backend, how we analyse events or we look for data. And can you think about running a website without looking at your analytics? Why is that the case with events? Why do we accept feedback, for example, this event was amazing and everybody was happy? That doesn’t work. I mean, that’s not feedback. That’s not analysis. That’s not actionable data that you could improve on. That’s not something that you can present to sponsors these days because you’re playing against a Facebook or Google and their pay per click products where you can be extremely tangible with the targets of your campaigns. And you have extremely detailed and granular reporting on who you contact. So we have to play with this level of accountability now with events, we have to be able to give something back to sponsors that is just not exposure, a great banner or a logo on a chair and say that it’s great reinforcement of your brand. There’s no awareness anymore. I think we’ve passed beyond the concept of awareness and exposure and event professional need to embrace that concept, both in terms of creativity, when it gets to creating a tangible sponsorship opportunities, but also to accountability when it goes back to the sponsor, and say, okay, this is what we’ve been able to create. This is the number of people that stopped by your activation. This is the number of leads we’ve been able to generate specifically thanks to our lead retrieval system. So I think it’s about rediscovering the purpose of events. And given the seriousness and the depth that these deserve, they’re not just an opportunity to get wasted and have fun. Even though there’s this concept in the Industry that some still have. There is another fringe of the industry that takes events extremely seriously, looks into making them better, is very anal in their approach to review data and feedback data about the event because, they’ve been playing with tough sponsors. The more millennials, and new generations become marketing managers, the more you can expect a shift. We see it in our clients, you know, when I worked with EventMB in selling advertising, we see the younger generations, they skip altogether print for example, because it doesn’t deliver anything in terms of the results in analytics. They’ve grown up. So, you know, how do you plan to be part of someone else’s marketing mix if you don’t deliver the same level of accountability. That’s the new challenge. And that’s where technology is extremely efficient and can really add the layer of tangibility to an extremely intangible, untangible environment and perishable environment like the one we live in and we offer.
You talk passionately quite rightly in terms of how event tech is enabling and leveraging professionals to better engage, better understand their audiences and to obviously demonstrate the kind of ROI that is so necessary, but obviously event tech potentially can be used for a engaging internal audiences, sort of what I call traditional meetings. By the same token, it could be used in things like incentive travel or in consumer experiential events or festivals. Do you see these different subsets of the events family as much benefiting from event tech or do you think some areas are just growing at a greater rate of knots than others?
Absolutely. I think one of the biggest opportunity for technology right now and where a lot of the Event tech companies and startups are really gaining speed, is actually smaller meetings and the long tail of meetings, you know, that actually do represent a huge chunk of the contribution to the economy that events make. We tend to think that the large events are the ones that move more money. It’s actually not, it’s some of the smaller events, the medium size of events – 100-200 people that, actually do deliver a lot and that’s where technology can be actually a fantastic sweet spot because it really gives you the opportunity to play with budget, save on budget. Think about venue sourcing for example. You know, there’s a lot of tools around us that allow you to quickly select the best venue for the type of event that you want based on your criteria, very targeted, a very unusual venues, for example. So you have to skip all the process of going to an exhibition for example, and talking to sales people and getting to know about it in the old way. I’m not denying the model of an exhibition, I’m just making an example of how information is much more readily available and targeted according to what we want. And so, you know, immediately you see cost efficiency there and immediate relevancy to what you’re looking for. Also, the content process, the RFP process where it’s been labeled by the venue sourcing tool, it’s a, it’s a huge step forward in terms of getting relevant quotes from those that respond quickly, at least and can give you immediately what you’re looking for. So you are finding extreme efficiencies, that in the past it used to take days of going around and looking at the venues. If you think about virtual tours and virtual reality tours of the venues, you don’t need to go there in some cases, right? You can just take your phone, look around, see the overlay of an event, how it happens, how it’s been happening in the past, you know, just load the filter and see it happening there. So you know, you immediately have a picture of how your event would look like without having spent the time to go into a site inspection. So in very small environments where the budget is limited, the time is limited. You may be working with a portfolio of hundreds of events. You have to plan so many this efficiency level, it’s so important in the Event Tech Bible, a report that we actually published yesterday in the yearly updates, we talk about the process of efficiencies and how, for example, having only one software for running your event immediately points out the efficiencies that you could reach for your smaller meetings in terms of supplier sourcing. So say within your organization there a number of people running events. You immediately, by centralizing all the information can access all the work that a colleague has done. And traditionally have had no visibility over, immediately it’s presented to you, the venues you’ve worked in the past with a feedback score. In some cases, you can immediately apply those to your advantage and use those for your event. You know, the activities that have, you know, have a higher percentage of show, a return for your events. And they really are passionate about your events. You can share those across different portfolios and immediately have some more insights and data on who is more likely to buy, purchase a ticket or to register for an internal meeting. So that type of data, that type of efficiency, it’s quantum leap, it takes months away from the planning that we used to dedicate to this stuff that wasn’t tech oriented. So that’s why I’m, I’m a big advocate of tech. Running events is a delicate balance of efficiencies and more efficiency we can have the better we’ll be running our events.
Julius, I hear what you say about how technology enables and improves the efficiency of the planning process, but I can think of a number of event colleagues who would perhaps take issue with the suggestion that technology now means you don’t have to go and do inspections, now means you don’t have to go and understand a property’s infrastructure. Particularly for important high profile events. I can think of a project a couple of years ago that I was involved with and the hotel in question, which was going to take a large conference, a well known hotel group in a capital city, and on paper absolutely everything was wonderful and all the planning was going quite nicely. We went to go and do the inspection prior to confirming the venue. And as we arrived it became very apparent that they were in the process of demolishing and rebuilding a three lane highway right outside the front of the hotel. And the hotel hadn’t bothered to tell us that we wouldn’t have discovered this from technology. So, you know, things like that, I’m going to say yes, I agree with you – to a degree. And then also if the head chef who’s made a reputation, or the GM changed. It’s like, oh, hang on with the space, things need to settle down because it’s still very much a people driven business. So those key ingredients also go into it.
Two things about that. First of all, I whole heartedly agree with you. Actually, I didn’t say that technology replaces the need for inspection. What I’m saying is that technology speeds up the process, especially for example, if you’re skimming potential candidates for a shortlisting. So you’re not sure about some of those still it will take a call, will take sometimes going there, wasting your time sometimes traveling because you’re really not getting a grasp of what the value is about. And technology can give you a little bit more in that sense and can really shorten the time. Of course you need to go there. I would never commit to do an event without seeing the venue in person and touching it, but as long as it’s the top two, the top three, not the top 10 because then it would need 10 different trips to different venues. And you know, having done that in London with the traffic and everything, even in the same city, it’s a nightmare. It takes forever and I need to get work done at the same time. So that’s one point. Then the second point is, you know, some, some hotels may not be ready to even to have the basics, sort of a overview of what they offer and you know, give you a good depiction of that. Well, you know, they’re going to be out of business if they don’t change. It’s the same thing as saying, Oh hey, my website is not optimized for Google or a search engine. I’m sorry, you know, if you don’t have that…. Maybe until five years ago, you could still get away with word of mouth. But as you know, the expectation rise of our attendees and our bosses and whoever is around sponsors, we need to do more to captivate this, increasing attention to the expectations from them. We need to be able to be more efficient so we will have to make decisions and sometimes there would be mean saying, okay, that’s a property that looks nice on paper, but I’m sorry they don’t have information. I’m not wasting my time on that. I can find better alternatives of people that actually did the job of explaining to me why they offered for meeting planners and event planners and what’s in it. If I bring my money, my budget, my attendees to them. We’ve seen this happening for a lot of players in our industry where, you know, keeping up with the basis of what’s needed is very important. And 360 degree virtual tours are becoming the norm even in exhibitions like IMEX for example, where you see a lot of stands have visors, right there at the exhibition where they show you the property right there and they’re complimenting the sale very easily without going on property. And actually they’re using the tech strategically to get you to be biased towards their venue – to be more inclined to select them.
I think that’s a really good place to pause. I do want you to come back and join me for the second part of this interview with Julius Solaris. If you want to know more about Julius and the Event Manager Blog, head on over to our website at Radio.Events. In the meantime, hey, if you want to feedback, tell us what you think, any questions you’d like to ask, go and use the Voicepipe at Radio.Events too. For now, that’s enough from me. Go safe out there and thank you for joining us here at Three Blind Mice.
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